Baked Pasta with Fennel and Artichoke

Patrick and I decided to give fennel another go. We used part of our CSA allotment for two small fennels. I found this recipe from Food Network to try. Neither one of us were too impressed with the recipe. I'm including it because in the future we'll probably try it again with some other veggies. The fresh mozzarella was certainly a treat and a delicious bite in the casserole. Here's the recipe with a few of our notes and how we changed things. 

Baked Pasta with Fennel and Artichoke
Kosher salt
1 pound cavatappi substituted fusilli 
2 tablespoons extra-virigin olive oil, plus more for brushing
4 cloves garlic, sliced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes
1 15-ounce can plum tomatoes used just one large 35 oz can tomatoes
4 large sprigs basil
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups chopped frozen artichoke hearts, thawed used canned
1 1/2 cups sliced fennel, sauteed note the fennel should be sauteed before you begin the recipe
3 cups cubed fresh mozzarella cheese
1 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese or parmesan 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until very al dente, 2 to 3 minutes less than the label directs; drain.

We sauteed the fennel and then continued using the same pan with the fennel removed. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic is golden. Crush the plum tomatoes into the skillet with your hands (don't get tomato sauce all over Patrick...oops); rinse out each can with 1/2 cup water and add the water to the skillet. Add the basil; simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. Discard the basil (we sliced the basil and left it in the sauce); season the sauce with salt. (Alternatively, heat 4 cups prepared tomato sauce.)

Stir the ricotta into the sauce, then add the artichoke hearts and fennel.

Brush a 3-to-4-quart baking dish with olive oil. Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce and half of each cheese. Spread in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the pasta. Bake, uncovered, until browned, about 15 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

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